The night was long and restless. He was cold inside his sleeping bag even though the three of them had worked so hard to make things cozy. And then, there was the wind. It blasted the tent relentlessly, and he was worried about getting blown off the ridge. What would that be like, he tried to imagine? There was no actual sleep. But there was a sort of vigilant grogginess. While his body was mostly still, his mind actively raced in a frenzy of hyperactive speculation. He was uncomfortable, and the situation was damn near depressing. But thankfully, he wasn’t outside climbing toward the summit- yet. That would happen soon enough.
It started out as a simple and straightforward thing to do. Lou took off, leading our group of British mountain bikers back to camp. Just seconds after beginning the ride, he rounded a corner and rode up on a four-foot Rattlesnake stretched out across the trail. Instinctively, he hit his brakes extra hard, which caused him to crash. When the dust settled, he was lying on the side of the trail, penned between a cactus and the rattler. The Brits had quickly stopped and looked on in horror as their guide and the viper were suddenly face to face, and only a couple of feet apart.
There are three well-known peaks in the Alaska Range—Denali, Foraker, and Hunter. At 14,195 feet, Hunter is the smallest of the three but is considered one of the most technically difficult 14er’s (14,000-foot mountains) to climb in the world. And reaching its summit was our goal for the particular trip this story is about, at least until lousy weather got in our way. We were a group of 13, which included me and several other Outpost Wilderness Adventure leaders along with two other non-OWA guides.
It was a long downhill and flowed well. The section of the Colorado Trail we were riding drops slowly and steadily for miles as it winds its way down the Craig Creek drainage. It’s a fast, fun, and mostly effortless ride. Sure, there are plenty of obstacles along the way, such as unfortunately positioned rocks, encroaching Potentilla bushes, and washed-out ruts. But the only tricky spots occur where small creeks, thick with willows, come in from the sides. While you can successfully ride most of the trail by using a combination of vigilance and good riding technique, the creek crossings generally require something a little more. And with all of their mud, roots, and big rocks, those parts often end up being walked. Despite the downsides, it’s mountain biking in the wilds of Colorado at its best.
The entrance to a horizontal mine shaft that we could ride our mountain bikes into was music to our eyes. The stone opening to the Porfirio Diaz Tunnel sat solemnly on a hillside in the middle of a barrio in Batopilas, Mexico. Sure, it’d been abandoned for 70 or 80 years. But that was of no consequence to us at the time. The entrance was circular and at about 12 feet in diameter, a little bigger than we’d each envisioned it to be previously. A flat dirt surface/pathway- perfect for mountain bikes– led into the darkness. Even though the place had the ominous appearance of almost being eaten by the solid rock, its beckoning call was persistent and ultimately won us over.
Rico hadn’t felt very strong ever since lunch. His backpack seemed exceedingly heavy, and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He had never been a complainer and didn’t want to become one at that point. The feeling was new to him, and he was intent on figuring out what was going on. Perhaps, he reasoned, it had something to do with the creek water he drank at lunch.
He thought back to the Strep he had during the winter and began to wonder if maybe this wasn’t that. But since there was no sore throat, he was pretty sure it wasn’t. No, this was something different, he decided.
The sixteen empty soda bottles sat on the counter in the Cerro Colorado store for two days, before the shopkeeper finally stuck them down with the others. They were a good conversation piece while sitting out there in the open. But when he found a spider in one, and since he needed to move them anyway, he put them into some empty slots in the Fanta case down on the floor. After he tidied things up, he thought about dragging the whole box of empties out from behind the Sabritas rack, so that they would still be visible. That way, they would continue to be the talk of the town, but he realized that if he did so, they would just be in the way and would make things look disorganized. And so he just stuck the case in the back room.
Deep in the heart of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, there’s a place that we called Golden Lake. No marked or named trails go there, and if you look on a map or search a guide book for information about it, you’ll find nothing. While there is a lake there, it has another name. It sits in a glacial cirque, or basin, along with two others at the top of an obscure drainage that leads down to the North Fork of the Popo Agie River. The main lake of the three is full of Golden Trout. Thus, the name.
It wasn’t the easy way out of the predicament. But we ended up choosing the more physically painful of the two options and climbed up the steep ridge and then over the saddle that led us out of Paradise Park and down into Hell Canyon.
I could tell the story from my first Alps trip about the Swiss barmaid hovering around outside of my tent late one night asking for my tentmate, Matt. Or the one about Matt and I racing our Swiss guides back down from the top of the Argentine Miroir (a famous rock climb) to a nearby café where our group was waiting. Both occurred amid an adventure trip that the two of us were leading. It was made up of people of varying ages, including teenagers, a doctor who was even older than me, and my non-alpinism-experienced wife, Lori.
I’ll leave the details of those two events up to the reader’s imagination and, instead, tell the one about Lori, Doctor Bob, and Big Chris crossing a glacier.